File photo taken June 2020 of Moria camp on the Greek island of Lesbos.  Credit : Picture alliance
File photo taken June 2020 of Moria camp on the Greek island of Lesbos. Credit : Picture alliance

Medical charity Doctors Without Borders (MSF) said it has been forced to shut down a coronavirus isolation center for migrants on the Greek Aegean island of Lesbos. MSF said it closed the center after local authorities allegedly imposed fines and threatened with criminal charges.

The international aid organization Doctors Without Borders (MSF) on Thursday said Greek authorities pressured it into closing a COVID-19 center for migrants on the island of Lesbos in the Aegean Sea.

"MSF has been forced to close" the facility "after local authorities imposed fines with potential criminal charges, related to urban planning regulations," the medical charity said in an online statement from July 30.

According to MSF, the closure would "significantly reduce the COVID-19 response capacity on the island."

The facility was located near the refugee and migrant camp Moria, which has long been criticized for its overcrowded, unsanitary and inhumane living conditions.

Although the Greek government has moved more than 14,000 migrants from Lesbos to facilities on the Greek mainland since January to try to relieve the overcrowding, some 15,000 people remain in Moria. That's more than five times its capacity of about 2,800 people.

According to the latest UNHCR data, some 30,700 refugees and asylum seekers currently reside on the Aegean islands.

'Terrible implications'

In the statement, MSF also warned that the shutdown "could have terrible implications should an outbreak occur in Moria."

"The public health system on Lesbos would simply be unable to handle the devastation caused by an outbreak in Moria," MSF said, adding that over 300 people are "at high-risk due to their age or a chronic medical condition."

MSF opened the isolation center on May 6 after the Greek government imposed movement restrictions to curb the spread of the coronavirus in March.

The move forced the population to stay inside the camp in unhygienic and dangerous camp conditions, MSF said. 55% of Moria residents are women and children.

News agency dpa, however, reported that Greece plans to open a COVID-19 ward next to Moria by August 20, "within the migration ministry's efforts to keep the situation on the islands under its own control." Dpa did not name a source for this information.

Island centers still under lockdown

Although no coronavirus cases have been registered at the camps on the Greek islands, asylum seekers and migrants there continue to be under lockdown. Last week, MSF called this "discriminatory" given that the anti-coronavirus measures have been eased in the rest of Greece.

MSF last month accused Greek authorities of using the coronavirus as a pretext to continue the lockdown.

Back in April, two migrants were shot and lightly injured after apparently breaking the quarantine and lockdown measures. Earlier this week, a young Afghan man was stabbed to death near the Moria camp. Fatal knife attacks have been happening at an average rate of one a month so far this year.

With material from dpa, AFP

 

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